How to Help Someone With a Gambling Addiction

Download Brochure

Download our brochure to learn more about our comprehensive services. Get started on your journey towards a healthier, happier life today!

What Is the Root Cause of Gambling Addiction?

Any addiction, including gambling, creeps up on you. One minute you’re enjoying a flutter on the Grand National or putting a few quid on your football team winning the league, and the next you’re heavily in debt trying to feed a gambling addiction that is destroying your finances and your life. Let us understand how to help someone with a gambling addiction in this article.

Many factors can lead you to develop a gambling disorder. Desperation for money is the most obvious. Winning thousands of pounds at the throw of a dice is a tempting way of solving your money troubles. Of course, when you don’t win (and the odds are always stacked against you), you spend more money trying to recoup the lost money and so it continues.

Another reason behind a gambling addiction is behavioural and relates to the way you feel and think – you may simply have the brain of a gambler. Winning gives you a high. And just like any addictive drug, you’re keen to feel that high again. So you gamble and keep on doing so until you win. In the meantime, you’ve spent a fortune.

What Is the Personality of a Gambler?

Four types of personalities have been associated with people with a gambling addiction, and these gambler types encompass a lot of different characteristic traits. They are:

  • Type one: disorganised and emotionally unstable, often with a substance abuse disorder
  • Type two: schizoid and aloof, often with a substance abuse disorder
  • Type three: impulsive and thrill-seeking
  • Type four: high functioning, globally adaptive (can change their personality to match their surroundings) with no substance abuse disorder

All these gambler types are more likely to experience mood disorders such as depression.

Gambling lifts you out of this depressive low. It provides an escape from daily life and lets you dream of the big win. How many of us have talked about what we’d do if we won the lottery and conjured up an idyllic life with mansions and yachts? Gamblers have that thrill every time they put money on a horse.

Is Gambling Considered a Mental Illness?

Yes. Gambling disorder, which involves repeat and compulsive gambling, is considered to be a psychiatric condition. If you are a gambler you need treatment to deal with the reasons behind your gambling and develop strategies for how to deal with future triggers that would normally start your gambling again.

As with any mental illness, a variety of therapies are used to treat gambling addiction, including cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT. This therapy explores the thoughts, feelings and behaviours behind your gambling and helps change them.

how to help someone with a gambling addiction

What Are Some Warning Signs of a Problem Gambler?

The signs of a gambling disorder are similar to signs of a drug or alcohol disorder and sometimes they can be hard to spot by others, and by yourself. Addiction means that whatever your vice, you are no longer in control. It is in control of you.

Signs That You Have a Gambling Addiction Include:

  • Being unable to stop thinking about gambling
  • Hiding your gambling from friends and family
  • Being unable to stop gambling
  • Gambling to make you feel happy
  • Feeling so bad when you lose that your only thought is gambling again
  • Gambling money that you can’t afford to lose
  • Turning to crime to pay for gambling or for gambling debts

How Do You Help a Gambler in the Family?

Firstly, remember that gambling addiction is a mental illness and your loved one can’t just stop without support and treatment. Listen to them without shouting or blaming them and try to understand why they can’t stop. It might be because they are in financial trouble.

Make sure that you don’t shoulder the blame for their gambling. They need support but so do you. There are a number of organisations that can help a person with a gambling addiction, and you. Gamblers Anonymous is experienced in helping those whose loved ones are gamblers.

If the person with the gambling addiction is under 18, you must reach out for professional support as well as speak to other family members, teachers and your GP so you can provide wraparound care.

senior woman psychologist and sad man patient

Start Your Recovery Journey Today

Get the Support You Need to Overcome Addiction: Contact CATCH Recovery Today

What Are the Lies Gamblers Tell?

Lying about the extent of your gambling is one of the signs of a problematic gambler. Common lies include:

  • Denying you’ve been gambling when you have
  • Claiming you lent money to a friend when you’ve gambled it away
  • Claiming you gambled a small amount when it was a large amount of money
  • Claiming you’ve stopped gambling when you haven’t 
  • Denying that you have a gambling addiction when you do (this is a lie you make to yourself too)

This kind of deceit can lead to financial ruin. One woman who started gambling in her twenties ‘for a lark’, was jailed for two years some 20 years later after stealing from her workplace to fund her addiction. Gambling had taken over her entire adult life and then destroyed it. And still, she struggled to admit that she had a gambling addiction. 

How To Stop Gambling Urges?

As gambling addiction is a mental illness, it needs to be treated the same way as any other mental health issue. Cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, is known to target the brain of a gambler and arm you with strategies to deal with triggers that will normally start your gambling again. 

With cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT, you are asked to consider the thoughts and feelings you attach to gambling and then analyse each one. By identifying and focusing on each of these thoughts and feelings, you can halt the urge to gamble at each step, and this reduces your chance of starting to gamble at all

What Happens in the Brain of a Gambler?

When you gamble, your brain releases the feel-good chemical dopamine into your brain and you get high. It feels so pleasurable that you want that feeling again and this is what compels you to keep on gambling. 

In 2016, the BBC broadcast a programme in which it attached an MRI scanner to the brain of a woman with a gambling disorder to see how it reacted when she placed a bet. It showed that not only are the feelings of euphoria in a gambler the same as anyone with a drug or alcohol addiction when they get high, but a near win produces the same high as an actual win

This means that even the prospect of winning is a drug to someone with a gambling addiction. You don’t need to actually win to feel that high; even gambling and almost winning (i.e. losing) will give you a buzz. 

What Gambler Types Are There?

There are three gambler types. These are: 

  • Recreational or casual gamblers
  • Problem gamblers
  • Pathological gamblers

The majority – more than 60% of gamblers  – are recreational gamblers. If you can take it or leave it, have a flutter every now and again and see it as a bit of fun, this is you. 

The next two types – problem and pathological – are less distinct. Almost 30% of people who gamble are problem gamblers. This gambling type chases their losses, which means they struggle to walk away after losing and keep on gambling.  

Just over 10% of gamblers are pathological gamblers. This means they gamble persistently and place bigger bets to feel the same rush as before. They lie about gambling, may resort to crime to pay for their gambling and it has total control over their life.

Where To Find Help for Gambling Addiction?

Rest assured there is a lot of help available if you have a gambling addiction, and you can access it discreetly which can be useful if you feel you are too embarrassed to talk to your GP or even a friend.  

There are a number of organisations all over the UK that can help with gambling addiction. These include dedicated NHS centres and Gamblers Anonymous

At Gamblers Anonymous and other dedicated gambling addiction organisations, you will meet like-minded people and realise that you are not alone. These are gamblers or former gamblers who can help, support and advise you because they know exactly what you are going through. 

Up to half of all people with a gambling addiction have a substance use disorder as well. If you fall into this category and you have another addiction to drugs or alcohol, you need to deal with that problem as well. 

In this case, you probably need an addiction treatment centre that can tackle your relationship with addiction as a whole. 

What Is the Best Treatment for a Gambling Disorder?

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a gambling disorder. Addiction affects everyone differently which means that not everyone responds to the same treatment. An organisation such as Gamblers Anonymous or a dedicated addiction treatment centre can unpick the reasons behind your gambling addiction. 

It may be that your gambling disorder is a result of depression or bipolar disorder, in which case medication to deal with those mental disorders may result in managing your addiction to gambling. Maybe you gamble when you’re drunk and your alcohol addiction needs to be addressed.

Maybe gambling is linked to family history or it started during a particularly stressful period in your life. Maybe you turned to gambling due to financial problems. There are plenty of organisations that can help with various problems in your life that have resulted in your gambling.

If you feel you need to tackle your gambling addiction in isolation, there are multiple tried- and-tested therapies including cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT which is proven to reduce gambling behaviour and other symptoms of the problem and pathological gambling.

Whatever the reason behind your gambling disorder, there is therapy or treatment for you. Don‘t suffer in silence and allow gambling to destroy your mental health, finances and possibly your family – seek help for your gambling as soon as you can.

Please note: the information on this page should not replace the advice of a medical professional. 


  1. Álvarez-Moya E M, Jiménez-Murcia S, Neus Aymami M, et al, (2010), Subtyping Study of a Pathological Gamblers Sample, Can J Psychiatry: 55 (8), 498-506
  2. Lister J J, Milosevic A, Ledgerwood D M, (2015), Psychological Characteristics of Problem Gamblers With and Without Mood Disorder, Can J Psychiatry: 60 (8), 369-375
  3. Mestre-Bach G, Steward T, Granero R, et al, (2018), Gambling and Impulsivity Traits: a Recipe for Criminal Behaviour, Front Psychiatry: 9 (6)
  4. British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?
  5. Kranzler H R, Li T-K, (2008), What is Addiction? Alcohol Res Health: 31 (2) 93-95
  6. Be Gamble Aware, How to Help a Loved One
  7. Be Gamble Aware, Finding the Right Support
  8. GamAnon UK
  9. Be Gamble Aware, How to Help a Young Person Who Gambles
  10. Jazaeri S A, Bin Habil M H, (2012), Reviewing Two Types of Addiction  Pathological Gambling and Substance Use, Indian J Psychol Med: 34 (1), 5-11
  11. How the Brain Gets Addicted to Gambling, (2013), Scientific American
  12. Okuda M, Balán, Petry N M, (2010), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Pathological Gambling: Cultural Considerations, Am J Psychiatry: 166 (12), 1325-1330
  13. Clark L, Averbeck B, Payer D, et al, (2013), Pathological Choice: the Neuroscience of Gambling and Gambling Addiction, J Neurosci: 33 (45), 17617-17623
  14. BBC, (2016), What Happens Inside the Brain of a Gambling Addict?
  15. Chamberlain S R, Stochi J, Redden S A, et al, (2017), Latent Class Analysis of Gambling Subtypes and Impulsive/Compulsive Associations: Time to Rethink Diagnostic Boundaries for Gambling Disorder? Addict Behav: 72, 79-85
  16. NHS (2021), Help for Problems with Gambling
  17. Gamblers Anonymous
  18. Grant J E, Chamberlain S R, (2020), Gambling and Substance Use: Comorbidity and Treatment Implications, Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological
  19. Psychiatry: 99
  21. Cowlishaw S, Merkouris S, Dowling N, et al, (2012), Psychological Therapies for Pathological and Problem Gambling, Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews: 11

Contact CATCH Recovery


Get Help Today